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A Real Life Jeckyl & Hyde Story, Straight From The Palace

Seems like he’s everywhere these days. But he might not be at Westminster Abbey on May 6 to see his dad officially crowned “King”. Obviously I’m talking about Prince Harry, or perhaps Harry Wales as he might be called now. I just finished reading his memoir, Spare, and my reaction is…complicated. Like Harry. Probably seldom since Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde has there been a story about a character with such opposing sides to him. He’s responsible yet irresponsible, mature at times yet largely immature, fiercely loyal yet disloyal as well, smart but dumb, a conservationist who at times shows little regard for life, a soldier who at times shows little regard for military protocol. One thing about his book – it’s never a dull read.

The book really covers his whole life so far, at least as he remembers it, right up through his grandma Queen Elizabeth’s death last year. For the few who might not know, Harry was the younger son of Prince Charles (now “King” Charles) and Princess Diana. Which set up the two major points which have shaped his life. One, his difficult relationship with his older brother William, compounded by the fact that William would be next in line for the crown after their dad, making him the “heir” and Harry, “the spare”. William seemingly always gets preferential treatment therefore, from better houses to more plum diplomatic assignments on behalf of the country. Two, his difficult relationship with his parents. He adored his mom, but as we know, she died in 1997, when Harry was not yet 13. In contrast, Charles was always distant and rather cold towards Harry, and things didn’t improve when dad took up with his long-time mistress, Camilla.

Given the circumstances of his mother’s death (being in an accident when chased by paparazzi) it’s understandable he has a longstanding, deep dislike for the press and especially their photographers. “Paps” he calls them, when he’s being polite. But while William has avoided major controversies and abuse from the British press, Harry has seemed a magnet for it. Some fair, some not so, but even he admits some of his actions didn’t help his case any. Wearing a Nazi uniform out, even to a costume party, can’t help but draw negative attention to oneself, as he found out bitterly. Even he admits now that was rather boneheaded, though he blames his brother and sister-in-law Kate for encouraging him. Which points to that overall immaturity mentioned before. He’s been portrayed as wild and drugged-out, which he has taken issue with all the while documenting his ongoing use of marijuana (still illegal in the UK) and frequent use of psychedelic drugs – throwing his “friend” Courteney Cox under the bus while doing so – and years of heavy drinking. He was criticized by various press members for joining the Army and going to fight in Afghanistan, which is probably very unwarranted. He seemed to sincerely want to be one of the men and do his country’s bidding. But, he then goes on to detail, “brag” some might say, about how many Taliban he killed over there, which has incited the military brass – that’s not something you talk about – and made him more of a target for terrorists than ever before. This while he goes on to document and complain about the troubles of finding adequate security to protect him and his family. And, as an environmentalist myself, I am in admiration of his work in Africa and hands-on support for animals like Rhinos and elephants… but equally displeased by his love of blood sports, fondness for shooting birds, rabbits and squirrels unchecked and am dumbfounded he seems to think killing off the biggest, strongest deer around is good for nature. Obviously, if trying to hunt to “help” the natural balance, one would cull the smallest, lamest members of the species.

All that said, he does make some good points and have some valid reasons to complain. He seems quite concerned about returning soldiers and helping them deal with physical and mental harm they endured overseas, something many a government, the United States included, often seem to ignore. And, many of his good traits deal with his wife, Meghan Markle, who seemingly can’t win for losing with the British tabloids. She has worn clothes picked out for her by the palace and been slut-shamed by the press for them, been reprimanded publicly for getting into a car before Queen Elizabeth when the queen told her to “get in the car”. Curiously, the late Queen is one member of his family he speaks of in good terms and seemed to genuinely love. Meg’s been slammed for her former life as an actress and been slurred because of her mixed racial background. Some of the racism, which he says is far stronger in Jolly Ol’ than in the U.S., or Canada (where she lived seven years) , might be perceived. His mom, Diana was the whitest of women but still got raked over the coals by the tabloids. But some of it is clearcut and vile – there’s no way to put a good spin on a newspaper running a photo of a couple with a chimpanzee and labeling it “royal baby goes home”. No wonder he’s angry. And I would say his loyalty to his wife is one of his best traits, although unfortunately it seems to require casting his family aside to do so. But for that, Charles and William share at least as much blame.

All in all, a complicated man to figure out, but one who has an interesting story to tell. I hope he continues to mature, little by little and can really find his life’s calling. For his many flaws it’s hard not to rather like him, nor to admire his willingness to throw away his royal title and ties.  And after reading the book, one might think that we could also hope his work endures even if his father’s does not. Because Spare is certainly not a great endorsement of the British royalty or the system it comes from.

Zen & The Art Of Mockingbird Feeding

We live on a reasonably quiet street, and each day I see three or four people dutifully walking their dogs along it. Often twice a day. At times I feel envious.

Not on days when it’s pouring or one of the rare days it’s below freezing and the roads are icy here, but many days. Seems a peaceful way to get some fresh air and exercise, and be alone with your thoughts.

We don’t have any pets, though some readers may remember me writing about Allie Dog a couple of years back. That was a fine black lab we ‘baby sat’ for over a year. A more pleasant disposition one never found on a dog, and I quite enjoyed walking her down the road to the local park. It seemed like she enjoyed that too. But she long since was reclaimed by her owner, and in fact, has gone on to the Great Sniffing Grounds beyond since then. We’ve had no inclination to replace her.

Now, I like cats – they usually seem innately drawn to me too – and found with Allie that at least some dogs are wonderful companions. But our little family all have allergies (Allie was largely an outside dog during the day, in a makeshift little bed in the garage at night type dog, though on freezing nights we’d put an old sheet on the sofa and let her in , usually all of us waking up sneezing and very congested the next day) and that doesn’t go together well with having “fur babies.” Plus we share a house with a couple of relatives who would have to be included in the decision-making process anyhow.

So no pets… but I do feel like I have some nonetheless. Especially “Morgan”.

Morgan” – a name I just came up with now – is a Mockingbird. As readers also probably know, I love birds. So there’s a bird feeder in the front yard, not too far from the bedroom window. I make a point of putting the food out in the morning in winter. We get a great array of common feeder species – Cardinals, Blue Jays (a bird I’d love even if my favorite sports team wasn’t named after them), chickadees and their perky relatives, titmice (hey, I didn’t name ’em!), various sparrows on the ground – but this year we’ve also had a Mockingbird or two.

Now Mockingbirds aren’t at all rare here , in fact they’re the state bird. They’re prominent in almost any suburban area or bushy area. But they’re not generally known to come to feeders. But “Morgan” certainly does. It’s not surprising really. I actually undertook a study of them in Canada, where they’re not at all common, and found they are great generalists. I saw them eat almost anything imaginable – tiny bugs, large hornets, all kinds of berries, sunflower seeds in parks. Their dietary range isn’t that far off our own.

Anyhow, after a few weeks this winter, it seemed as soon as I walked out the door with the container of seed, “Morgan” flew in from wherever he – or she, they all look alike to us! – was. It was uncanny. At first he’d sit at the far side of the large oak tree up high. I’d be back in the house looking out the window before he’d fly down and grab a snack. As the winter wore on though, he got bolder and bolder. Nowadays, he’s often on a branch staring down at me, within arm’s length, and is feasting away before I have the lid on the seed jug. If I’m running a bit late, I swear Morgan seems to be giving me a “where were YOU?” look.

It’s funny because that’s a bird that not only isn’t normally a “feeder” bird but also has a great reputation in bird books for being “aggressive” – flying at people’s heads and so forth. I’ve never found that to be the case…but then again, other studies show they can identify individual people, flying at one person regularly while sitting, chirping demurely when someone of similar size in the same clothing goes by. Makes you wonder what they – and other animals – would say if they could really speak our language.

It’s not walking half a mile with an animal, but it makes me feel connected to something else, gives me a sense of just giving back a little to this world we as a species do so much harm to. Helps set my day off on the right foot.

Not yoga or meditation, it’s the Zen of Mockingbird feeding.

Odd Job Memory Jogs

Do you have any talents that might surprise others? I think we all do. Someone asked that not long ago, and it got me thinking. Not so much about a specific talent, but about a job I had and did well in that was rather out of the blue. For a good two years, I was on essentially a construction team for a large retailer.

Now those who know me know that I’m not exactly “mechanically inclined”, nor am I any kind of weight lifter. I’m more inclined to be working at a computer desk, or maybe with pro photographers, processing their films (there’s a blast from the past – “film”?) or helping them pick out equipment. Or going back a ways, in parks, cataloguing birds and leading hikes than donning a hard hat. But that’s what I did for some time…and I loved it!

The situation was that I’d just moved back to my home area, and had been out of work for a bit. Back to the “film” becoming an anachronism thing; jobs working with it were becoming scarce by a few years into this century. So, a large pharmacy/small department store was building a brand new, bigger store near where I was living. I decided to apply. After all, nothing much to lose and the pay was OK for a temp job. I was apprehensive the first day, when I, and about 50 others who had nothing better to do I guess, showed up at the empty concrete shell that would be a bustling store in a month or so. We were given hard hats and a utility knife; we’d already been told we needed steel toed shoes on the site. We went in, were broken into little teams, surveyed the vast empty space, with a few half-walls here and there and stacks and stacks of metal shelves piled up, covered in shrink wrap. There was tape on the new, shiny floor, and blueprints (well, actually on regular paper but the same idea) every few yards. After a short introduction and marginal demonstration, we were to assemble the shelves, four foot by four foot section, where they were supposed to go. The shelves clicked into the supporting racks pretty easily, but there were of course different sized ones, some wider, some narrow. Some had lights built in. Some were in refrigerated sections.  Some of the store was white shelving, other areas gray. The work wasn’t overly heavy, but it was a workout nonetheless. They rang a bell, almost like school, when it was time for lunch or a break, and again when we were to be back on the floor. I went home the first night tired, but not dreading going back the next day like I feared I might.

Many others didn’t feel the same; by Wednesday of the first week, only about half of us still were coming in. I learned they always hire a lot more people than they think they need because a large proportion simply won’t come back after a day or two, or will be too unwilling to work and follow rules so get let go. As the time wore on, the shelves went up, the pharmacy equipment and cash registers got put in, and then came the trucks…and the planograms. It takes a lot of products to fill a 25 000 square foot store. After a few days, there was a steady stream of tractor trailers backing up, dropping off skids (or what most people here call “pallets” apparently) of boxed merchandise. It had to be quickly dissembled, whenever possible carted right out to the floor, with overstock going on skyhigh racks in the warehouse part. And that’s where the planograms come in. Basically, it’s a map of where every single item in the store is going. Believe me, in a large national chain, things aren’t just put out “willynilly”. Everything is in its specific place and it’s planned down to the arrangement of colors of hair twirly thing on a rotating displayer. Most of it was pretty easy – if you followed the plan exactly. Which many people didn’t. And of course, those hundreds of feet or planned shelving and displayers all needed price labels. Computers were brought in, hundreds of pages of stickers were printed out and carefully applied to the shelving, again each one in precisely the right spot.

All this was being done with the oversight of a trio of Head Office people who were in charge of overseeing the company’s expansion. Head Office or not, they wore jeans and hard hats like the rest of us. After a few days, I found them all pretty approachable; liked working with them.

By about the second week, I’d been basically placed in a little team with a couple of other guys, one, we’ll call him “Tom”, a millennial and a Yankees fan (well, no one’s perfect!) and a bit of a cynic, the other an older guy, “Paul” , who’d retired from a skilled job at a factory and didn’t especially need the money but wanted something to do to keep busy and pay for his beer – of which he’d consume less with a day job to keep him occupied. We were pretty ordinary guys, but we got along fine and at least we could figure out how to stack boxes of detergent on a shelf or know it was important to attend to frozen food coming through the back door quicker than, say plastic totes full of batteries and dog toys.

The big day came for the  grand opening, and of course, it was remarkably busy. Most of the crew that had made it through the month were kept on for a few days to help out; after all we knew better than anyone where everything was in the store and the stockroom.

Before we were all finished though, the Head Office types came to my little team and said we’d done really well. They had a similar store being built, a few cities over. Would we like to go work on it? We all agreed that would be cool, so why not? After a week or so to rest, we were back, duplicating the first job in a new city with new co-workers. Paul had a nice car, so we carpooled with him. I got in good because I remembered to give him gas money on payday! Tom sometimes had to be reminded “hey, hey, this car don’t go 70 miles a day on fresh air!” . That job went even smoother since we had experience by then.

And so it went. Along the way, we picked up a fourth guy, around my age too, that had a similar work ethic. We became an in-demand crew. For a couple of years, the company was growing steadily and we were brought in to help set up any new store within about a 50-mile radius. One store was open while we were doing it – they’d bought out an adjacent store and doubled the floor space. That was some fun! Moving shelves around while customers were trying to grab shampoo off them, or walk around electricians trying to run cable across the aisles. One day we went in and the wall between the two was literally gone; demolished overnight in a cloud of dust. It took about six weeks to get that one fully functional.

The Head Office people became, dare I say “friends” ; they were ordinary people doing their job and respected that we were the same. We were even cut a little slack at times. One time we were about six shelves short for an aisle, and most of the day’s work was done. The next day they sent the four of us in a big rental truck to the corporate warehouse, miles away, to pick up the six, four-foot shelves. Suffice to say realistically, it wasn’t a four man job.  “Make sure you’re back before 4”, we were told, and keep a receipt for lunch so we could be reimbursed. One time, one of the REAL Head Office staff, the type who’d have an office in the headquarters and likely wear a suit into it, dropped by to see the progress of one of the stores. We’d met him a couple of times before. He came over and asked us how much we were being paid. I told him and he said … wait for it … “that’s not enough. I’m getting you guys an extra buck an hour.” And he did. If there was a down week, with no construction they’d even gotten into the habit of sending us to problem stores; ones that were very messy or with stockrooms overflowing with unboxed goods, to kind of pull a two or three day store blitz to get them back in shape. It was surprisingly satisfying work. It wasn’t complicated, and gave me time to let my mind wander a bit if I fancied, but by the same token, it wasn’t mind-numbing like some factory jobs. I’d probably go crazy if I had to stand in one place and put one screw into one piece of metal on an assembly line over and over, eight hours a day for years. This one was just different enough from day to day, just enough pressure to meet deadlines and prioritize tasks to be tolerably exciting and easy enough as to not me cause huge levels of stress. And being noticed and praised by office executives is a plus on any job!

Eventually, the growth period for that company slowed and those jobs dried up. Paul got hired on to merchandise one store, weeks later I took a job running a small department of one of the store’s we built and did that for a couple of years more.

I look back on those days quite fondly. And with amazement . That first day I showed up at that empty shell of a store in steel toed boots, I would never have guessed it would be a part of my life for several years and what’s more that I’d have fun doing so. Let alone be seen as very good at it to boot. I think there’s a message in there for all of us. Sometimes it’s good to be open to new experiences and in doing, you find talents you don’t even recognize.

(I didn’t take the above photo, but it was similar to the empty structures we’d go into the first day. Looking back, I don’t know why I didn’t take a camera in and take some construction sequence shots during them.)